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Airborne to the Mountains

Airborne to the Mountains, by James Mills with foreword by Sir John Hunt. London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd.; New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., Inc., 1961. 212 pages, 22 illustrations, 2 sketch maps, 7 appendices. Airborne to the Mountains is the record of an All-British expedition to the Traleika Glacier in Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska. For six weeks, during early summer, 1956, the group made the first detailed exploration of the glacier, plus two first ascents and two more unsuccessful tries of virgin peaks adjacent to the glacier.

The late Jimmie Mills, the organizer and leader, tells of his methods in obtaining finances for an Alaskan expedition: his success in convincing the British War Office that it should support the party of four—all British Army officers—with equipment and leaves of absence to make the trip for the good of the service. Although he was unsuccessful in his dealings with the Royal Canadian Air Force for transportation across Canada, the United States Air Force was more favorably inclined. As a joint armed forces effort, it ultimately provided the party with Alaskan transportation, including helicopter airlift from Fairbanks to the confluence of the Traleika and Muldrow glaciers and return. It also provided the stand-by party (required by the National Park Service) and flew cover every three days during the six-week expedition.

His description of experiences on an Alaskan glacier with its long days, extreme temperature changes, and above all sudden and extended storms is typical of those encountered by nearly every party that has trod McKinley’s slopes since Belmore Browne’s historic pioneering of the area. Unlike most chronicles of the hills, however, Airborne to the Mountains dwells largely on the human, everyday side of an expedition, with its attendant discomforts of wet sleeping bags, inadequacies of expedition cooking, struggles against deep snow and impenetrable crevasses, and finally the satisfaction achieved with the attainment of each small part of the ultimate expedition goal.

In addition he describes personality clashes that can easily arise and can become obstacles to an expedition’s success. Anyone who is about to participate in a small expedition should make this book a “must”; it will alert him to the potential pitfalls that can hold an expedition back from its goal, but will also kindle the fires of conquest so necessary for a successful expedition.

Paul B. Crews